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Interview With Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal; Republicans Attempt to Show United Front; Trump Hoping to Face Hillary Again; Crisis in Puerto Rico; Trump Sexual Assault Allegations: "It's Fake"; Trump Blames Food, Water Crisis on Puerto Rico Distribution. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired October 16, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: While President Trump insists massive amounts of relief supplies are being sent to the island. Why is he blaming local distribution efforts for continued shortages?
And, Hillary, please run. President Trump implores Hillary Clinton to take him on again in 2020, calling her a poor candidate and calling her statement on kneeling NFL players disrespectful. Why is the president still bringing up his former rival and comparing himself to Barack Obama as well?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight.
President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell putting aside weeks of public discord to hold an impromptu news conference following a White House lunch. They're teaming up to push tax reform, which the president is now tying directly to Republican fortunes in next year's midterm election.
And the president is insisting he's closer than ever to McConnell, despite his repeated public criticism of the majority leader.
The president also told reporters he would try to talk former chief strategist Steve Bannon out of his efforts to unseat establishment Republicans, including McConnell. But just hours earlier, the president appeared to support Bannon's insurgency, which included blistering attacks on McConnell at a conservative summit over the weekend.
And despite the show of unity with the majority leader, the president says congressional Republicans are not getting the job done when it comes to advancing his agenda, specifically citing the failure to repeal and replace Obamacare. The president has been criticized for not making a stronger public push for the GOP effort.
But he says -- and I'm quoting him now -- "I'm not going to blame myself."
And, tonight, the president is blaming local distribution efforts in Puerto Rico for ongoing food and water shortages, almost a month after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. The president says what he calls massive amounts of food and water are being sent to Puerto Rico, but he says it's up to local officials to get it to the residents.
We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Senator Richard Blumenthal of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
But let's begin with the president's show of unity today with the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.
Our White House correspondent, Sara Murray, is joining us with the latest.
Sara, they're uniting to push tax reform, despite previous public tensions.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. In a freewheeling press conference, President Trump touted his legislative agenda and he appeared next to the man who will be key to getting it through the Senate, and both of them stood side by side and insisted there's no bad blood here.
MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump maintaining tenuous ties with his own party today, appearing to defend his conservative ally Steve Bannon's efforts to unseat Republicans in one moment.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know how he feels. Depends on who you're talking about. There are some Republicans, frankly, that should be ashamed of themselves.
MURRAY: And softening his approach just hours later, saying his former chief strategist, who is taking aim at sitting GOP senators, may need to adjust his targets.
TRUMP: Steve is doing what Steve thinks is the right thing. Some of the people that he may be looking at, I'm going to see if we talk him out of that, because, frankly, they're great people.
MURRAY: Trump's sudden about-face when it comes to party loyalty...
TRUMP: Just so you understand, the Republican Party is very, very unified.
MURRAY: ... coming after he had lunch with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and appeared alongside him in the Rose Garden.
TRUMP: My relationship with this gentleman is outstanding. Has been outstanding.
MURRAY: While Trump may be touting a warm relationship, McConnell remains one of Bannon's key foils.
STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: We have cut your oxygen off, Mitch. OK?
MURRAY: As he declares open season on the GOP.
BANNON: Right now, it's a season of war against a GOP establishment.
MURRAY: As for the majority leader, he's standing by the incumbent crowd and warning that Bannon's efforts represent a recipe for failure.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: You have to nominate people who can actually win, because winners make policy and losers go home.
MURRAY: Both Trump and McConnell making clear their uneasy alliance is necessary to notch a major legislative win like tax reform and keep control of the House and Senate.
TRUMP: We have races coming up, as you know, in a year from now. I think we're going to probably do very well. I can say this. If we get taxes approve approved, we're going to do unbelievably well.
MURRAY: This even as the president insists it's Congress that should shoulder the blame for the slow pace of progress so far.
TRUMP: We're not getting the job done. And I'm not going to blame myself, I will be honest. They are not getting the job done. We have had health care approved, and then you had a surprise vote by John McCain. We have had other things happen, and they're not getting the job done.
MURRAY: While Trump may believe his fate is safe regardless, Republicans in and outside the White House tell CNN they don't believe the president fully grasps his feuds with the GOP and lack of legislative achievements could put his presidency in peril.
If the GOP loses the House in 2018, Republicans fear the rest of Trump's first term could be buried by Democrat-led investigations into Russian involvement in 2016 and ultimately impeachment proceedings, leaving Republicans to sound the alarm that a fractured Republican Party will ultimately bring everyone down.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Mitch McConnell is not our problem.
Our problem is that we promised to repeal and replace Obamacare, and we failed. We promised to cut taxes, and we've yet to do it.
If we're successful, Mitch McConnell is fine. If we're not, we're all in trouble, we lose our majority, and I think President Trump will not get reelected.
MURRAY: Now, the White House insists that President Trump is keenly aware of the risks his presidency could face if Democrats retake control of the House. They say they're not taking a defeatist attitude and the president will be out there fighting to maintain the GOP majority -- back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sara, thank you, Sara Murray at the White House.
The president voiced optimism about passing tax reform this year, but also acknowledged the challenge and the stakes Republicans are now facing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I would like to see it be done this year, John. I would like very much to see it be done this year. So we won't go a step further. If we get it done, that's a great achievement. But don't forget, it took years for the Reagan administration to get taxes done. I have been here for nine months, a little more than nine months.
I can say the same thing for health care. If you look at Obama, first of all, you look at Clinton, they weren't able to get it done. You look at other administrations, they weren't able to get it done. President Obama, after a long period of time, was able to finally push it through, but push through something that has now failed and really failing badly.
But, again, we're meeting -- Democrat, Republican, are meeting right now, and right now, they're working on something very special. But I have to tell you, I really believe that we have a very good chance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring in our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly. He's up on Capitol Hill.
Phil, is the president right? Will tax reform get done this year?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, when you talk to congressional leaders up here, both Republican and Democrats, they're willing to acknowledge a reason a full-scale tax overhaul hasn't been done in 31 years. Certainly 10 weeks not a lot to time to actually complete that, currently when, as it currently stands, Republicans are working with a nine-page framework.
No legislative text. They haven't started moving the process through in the House or the Senate. But it's worth noting when you talk to Republican aides who are deeply involved in the process, they talk about a few things that are in their favor.
First and foremost, unlike health care, the House, the Senate, and the White House have been working behind closed doors on this proposal, on the legislative language now for months. On top of that -- and this is what you hear more than anything when you talk to rank and file members, Wolf -- the political imperative. You heard it from Lindsey Graham in Sara's piece. You have heard it from the president. You have heard it from the Senate majority leader himself. They recognize in the wake of health care's failure, if they don't achieve kind of a cornerstone domestic achievement like tax reform, they would be walking into the 2018 midterms in a big, big problem with major, major issues.
Here's the kind of bigger picture, Wolf, right now as it currently stands. Tax reform is very hard. There's a reason it hasn't been done in a long time. The details here matter immensely. That's why it's very difficult to say at this point in time with only 10 weeks left in the year and just a nine-page framework, that they're on track to get this done.
But the political imperative in mind, the recognition this is something for their agenda that matters, the really in-the-weeds details that have sunk these efforts year after year after year, at least at this point, Republican leaders hope maybe, just maybe they can be glossed over -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's see what happens. Phil, thank you, Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill.
Let's get some more on all of this.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is joining us. He's a member of both the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees.
Senator, thanks very much for joining us.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you.
BLITZER: When the president said the only thing you guys, the Democrats, are good at, being obstructionists, can you prove him wrong and work with Republicans and get something significant done for the American people?
BLUMENTHAL: Absolutely, Wolf.
In fact, there are talks ongoing right now between Senator Alexander and Senator Murray that...
BLITZER: Lamar Alexander, who is the chairman of the committee, and Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat.
BLUMENTHAL: Exactly. And I'm very supportive and have been involved in a number of these meetings. And there could well be a meeting of the minds that advances and builds on the Affordable Care Act without repeal and replace, which is cruel and irrational, and on tax reform.
BLITZER: And, by the way, on that, Patty Murray-Lamar Alexander legislation, it looks like, as an interim measure, the president might even go along with it.
BLUMENTHAL: And he should, because what will be produced is bipartisan compromise.
You know, compromise is not a four-letter word. There's no reason that Republicans and Democrats cannot work together on health care reform, on tax reform, but it is difficult, in fact, impossible to do if Republicans say that they're doing it without Democrats, which has been their approach.
And they are divided, which is why none of this has happened so far.
BLITZER: I assume you want to work with the president to reduce the cost of prescription drugs for Americans.
He correctly points out that the same prescription drug, the cost in the United States is a lot more than the same drug costs in Canada or England or Europe or elsewhere. I assume you want to work with him on that.
BLUMENTHAL: Not only do I want to work with the president. I have been crusading, campaigning, championing lowering the cost of pharmaceutical drugs.
BLITZER: Why is that? Why does the same drug cost so much more in the United States than in this other countries?
BLUMENTHAL: There are a complex set of reasons, but the emphasis on marketing, raising the cost of those prescription drugs, the absence of breakthroughs on new prescription drugs, is due to the emphasis on marketing and advertising.
And I think, also, the monopolistic control that many of the drug companies have over those prices. There are a complex set of factors, but bringing down the cost of health care has to be the priority and particularly pharmaceutical drugs.
BLITZER: Do you think some of your Democratic colleagues in the Senate will work and eventually support the president's tax cut, tax reform plans?
BLUMENTHAL: Not as currently advanced, which is just a framework, a very vague one, at that. For example, benefiting the top 1 percent at the expense of working-class families is a nonstarter.
Eliminating the deduction for state and local property taxes, particularly impactful on my state of Connecticut in the Northeast and many other states, and destroying Medicare and Medicaid as the price of tax cuts, corporate tax cuts, I think, will be a nonstarter. There are areas...
BLITZER: He wants the corporate rate to go down from 35 percent to 20 percent, to make the U.S. corporations more competitive with their international competition. What's wrong with that?
BLUMENTHAL: There are areas where we can agree, and that's one of them, as long as the benefits go to ordinary Americans, and they see real tax cuts.
And here's another area, Wolf, where I think the president has missed a tremendous opportunity. Tax cuts and tax reform should be tied to infrastructure investment. Roads, bridges, rail, ports, airports, VA facilities, broadband all can be supported. And there can be investment as a result of tax reform, for example, repatriation of a lot of those dollars that are parked overseas, if there are incentives provided those corporations, but not just giveaways and tax breaks.
BLITZER: The president said that he removed those subsidies as part of the Affordable Care Act because that money was strictly going as a bonanza to the big insurance companies who are making huge profits right now, and he wants to eliminate that. That's why he got rid of the subsidies. You buy that?
BLUMENTHAL: That contention is disproved by the facts.
The cuts in those subsidies were very simply and starkly an effort to sabotage the Affordable Care Act.
BLITZER: But the insurance companies do make a lot of profit.
BLUMENTHAL: And those profits should be overseen and stopped if they are involved in higher costs, because bringing down costs has to be part of what's done.
I have long advocated that there be stronger regulatory oversight. And Connecticut has seen some of those price increases as well. If there are excess profits, they ought to be part of the regulatory process.
BLITZER: Let's talk about national security while I have you. The president said today that when he visits South Korea next month, part of an Asian trip, he may go up to the demilitarized zone, but he may not. He was asked if it is provocative.
Shouldn't he go visit U.S. troops along the DMZ, as I think almost all other presidents have done, while he's in South Korea, or will it be too provocative and will it anger the North Korean regime?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, I think that our U.S. troops, which so ably serve and sacrifice for our country, should be visited by the president wherever they are, and no one should be intimidated, least of all the president, to visit our troops in South Korea or anywhere in the world.
But that is not to say that all of what the current administration is doing vis-a-vis North Korea is absolutely right. In fact, there has been no real plan or strategy for diplomatic effort or use of more aggressive sanctions. And I would like to see that visit coupled with an effort to mobilize the world community in truly cutting down on the supply of components that are necessary for the North Koreans to develop their missiles.
BLITZER: It's a very, very tense situation on the Korean Peninsula right now.
Iraq also very tense right now. There seems to be significant clashes going on in the northern part of Iraq between Kurdish forces and Iraqi military, some of those Iraqi military backed by Iranian-supported militia.
The president today was asked about it. He said the U.S. shouldn't take sides in this conflict. But, potentially, this is a very, very serious setback for the unity of Iraq.
BLUMENTHAL: A very serious setback for the unity of Iraq, but equally important for our fight against ISIS.
Two of our allies in that effort, Iraq and the Kurds, the Peshmerga, which have been ferocious fighters, are involved in this fight among themselves. And we ought to be mediating. We ought to take an active role in trying to bring together these two allies in the area, so we focus on the enemy that we share, not fighting among ourselves.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a very, very serious development, what's going on there in Iraq right now. Much more on that coming up. Stand by.
We have got other breaking news we're following. We will have more with Senator Blumenthal right after this.
BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, President Trump says he's not considering firing the special counsel, Robert Mueller, who is investigating the Russian election interference, but the president added -- and I'm quoting him now -- "I would like to see it end."
We're back with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees.
He insists there was no collusion. He says this whole investigation is simply an excuse by you Democrats to try to come up with an explanation why Hillary Clinton lost and he won.
What's your reaction to what the president said today?
BLUMENTHAL: I'm glad that he says he's not about to fire the special counsel, which we suspected he might do, which is the reason we sponsored legislation, bipartisan legislation, by the way, to make sure that the special counsel could not be fired without a court order.
And the claims about the investigation being a witch-hunt or a hoax or partisanship disproved by the fact of the investigation and what's been uncovered so far. There's no question that the Russians interfered on a massive scale with our election. The question is whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. And that's the topic for the special counsel to investigate, and he's proceeding very vigorously and diligently with that investigation and, at the same time, possible obstruction of justice by the president of the United States, very serious charge.
BLITZER: Which do you think has a greater potential to result in charges, let's say, obstruction of justice or collusion?
BLUMENTHAL: At this point, we're a ways from completing the investigation. And I have no insight or private information about what the special counsel is doing, but I think they both must be investigated.
And I have a lot of confidence in the integrity and the ability of special counsel Bob Mueller to pursue this evidence and follow it wherever it may lead, and, at the same time, the Judiciary Committee, where I sit, and the Intelligence Committees of both the House and Senate are pursuing our investigation, because remember that we have responsibility to legislate to prevent the kind of massive attack on our democratic process that occurred, including using Facebook, Google, the ads and posts there.
And the lesson here is the Russians will do it again unless they are made to pay a price, and anybody who colluded with them.
BLITZER: An interesting new nugget just came out, Yahoo News reporting that Russian trolls were required to study and watch the Netflix series "House of Cards" to hone their messaging to try to foment discontent and anger within the United States.
You're smiling when I'm talking about that. But this is potentially a very serious development.
BLUMENTHAL: You know, we failed to take, I think, seriously enough how absolutely sinister and sophisticated the Russian use of Facebook and other social media was.
This kind of digital attack on our democracy goes to the core of who we are, an open and democratic process. And, of course, they tried to hack into the election machines as well. So we need to learn all the lessons we can and pursue criminality if there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
BLITZER: Is it your sense that the Russians were primarily seeking simply to stoke discontent, disruption here in the United States, or were they actually thinking they could help defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump?
BLUMENTHAL: My personal view is, they were doing both. Which they set as a priority may have changed over time as they saw Donald Trump as a more and more viable candidate.
But having viewed those Facebook and Google posts and ads and Twitter, I think that their goal was both to destabilize and disrupt our democracy and sow discord, but to also intervene in the election on the side of Donald Trump.
BLITZER: Yes, they clearly were going after Hillary Clinton. They assumed she would win, because the polls suggested she probably would win. But if she won, they wanted her to be as weak and divisive as possible.
BLITZER: But that's just the assessment that I have heard from U.S. intelligence officials.
All right, there's a lot more we need to discuss, but we can't do it right now.
We will take a quick break. There's more news we're following.
Senator, thanks very much for joining us.
President Trump criticizes congressional Republicans for failing to repeal Obamacare and not advancing his agenda. Should the president have done more?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And I'm not going to blame myself, I will be honest. They are not getting the job done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The breaking news this hour: a show of unity and claims of camaraderie by President Trump and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.
Despite the president's recent public criticism of McConnell, he touted their friendship when they appeared together in the Rose Garden following a White House lunch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[18:30:18] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are probably now, despite what we read, we're probably now, I think, at least as far as I'm concerned, closer than ever before. And the relationship is very good.
We're fighting for the same thing. We're fighting for lower taxes, big tax cuts. The biggest tax cuts in the history of our nation. We're fighting for tax reform as part of that. We are getting close to health care. It will come up in the early to mid part of next year. We're going to have a vote. I think we already have the votes. We feel confident we have the votes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's dig deeper with our contributors and our specialists. And Gloria, how significant was this public display by the president and the majority leader? GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it's
obviously an arranged marriage, and it's -- it's a marriage of convenience as well for now. And it will be there until it's not.
I mean, just look at what happened today. The president, in the morning with his cabinet said, "You know, I understand how Steve Bannon feels." And of course, Steve Bannon, his former adviser, is talking about primarying and challenging all these Senate Republicans. Because, he said, "I share his frustration."
And when he went out after lunch with Mitch McConnell, it was all about, "We have to take control of the Senate. We're very, very close."
And Mitch McConnell came out and said, "Look, I'm all about control of the Senate, and I don't want a repeat of 2010 and 2012 when we ran these lousy candidates and we lost." And suddenly, the president was with him.
So I think the president's a great performance artist, and I think that in the afternoon, he was with Mitch. And in the morning, he was with Steve Bannon.
BLITZER: You know, that's -- Gloria makes a good point, Ryan Lizza. And you remember the 2010 elections, the 2012 elections. The Republicans who were nominated that wound up in the general election losing to Democrats in the Senate. Mitch McConnell remembers that very, very vividly.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
BLITZER: But you know, the president remembers very vividly what happened in Alabama more recently. And I'm sure that's going to influence him.
LIZZA: That's right. A lot of Republicans think they should have taken back the Senate before they did in 2014, because they lost a lot of good opportunities in '10 and '12.
And then in '14 and '16, they thought they sort of figured out how to contain some of the Bannonite forces that haunted them in '10 and '12. And now, here we are in the run-up to '18, and it seems like Mitch McConnell is going to have a very aggressive populist grassroots -- challenges to a lot of the incumbents.
Bannon has -- Bannon is committed to not endorsing any primary opponent who will back Mitch McConnell as majority leader. So this is very, very personal to McConnell himself.
I think ideologically, frankly, Bannon and some of his allies don't really care who the candidates are they back. They want them to be more conservative. They want them to be more Trump-like in their views.
But the real enemy is, for whatever reason, is McConnell personally. And Trump is sort of caught in between these two. He's got, you know, sometimes, not to pick on Bannon too much, but you know, this sort of devil's on one shoulder and the angel's on the other shoulder. And Trump now finds himself in the middle, trying to be the leader of these, of this party with these two forces.
BLITZER: Yes, Bannon basically wants every Republican incumbent senator except Ted Cruz to be challenged in a Republican primary going forward. The president, he emphasized the need, David, for the Republicans to deliver this year on tax reform. But earlier, he made it clear what he had -- what his views are on previous legislative failures.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Despite what the press writes, I have great relationships with actually many senators, but in particular, with most Republican senators. But we're not getting the job done. And I'm not going to blame myself, I'll be honest. They are not getting the job done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It's not necessarily what we often hear from presidents: "I'm not going to blame myself. They're the ones who are to blame."
DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. To Gloria's point, Wolf, part of what President Trump wanted to do today was sound like a pragmatist.
On the other hand, to Ryan's point, he wanted to sound like someone who was antiestablishment, talking about what Bannon wants to do, going after Mitch McConnell.
Part of the problem for President Trump, Wolf, is that embedded in that comment is the reason he doesn't get along with a lot of people on the Hill. He won't take any responsibility for the legislative failures.
There's some fence mending going on. Played golf two weekends in a row with Senator Graham. Clearly, they're trying to work things out in the Republican Party, but he keeps doing things that alienate him from members of Congress.
BLITZER: You know, Phil Mudd, after nearly two weeks, the president today finally commented on the four Green Berets, the four American military personnel who were killed in Niger. He said he hasn't yet spoken to their families. He's planning on doing so. He's written some letters. They'll be mailed, he says, either tonight or tomorrow.
[18:35:17] But then he also said this. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The toughest calls I have to make are the calls where this happens. Soldiers are killed. It's a very difficult thing. Now, it gets to a point where, you know, you make four or five of them in one day, it's a very, very tough day. For me, that's by far the toughest. So the traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other
presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Which is not necessarily true. And the president backtracked later, suggesting, well, that's what his advisers had told him. Your reaction?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, it's a tough day for the president? How about for the families who accepted a child or a father or a spouse home in a casket? It's not a tough day for them?
This guy has the empathy of a cockroach. From the day after his inauguration when he showed up at my agency, the former agency, the CIA, in front of the wall of fallen heroes and spoke about the size of his inauguration. Fast forwarding now, what is it, nine months, and he can't figure out his responsibility, not only as the commander in chief, but as the consoler in chief, is to tell those families, "It's not about me. It's not about Donald Trump. It's about 330 million Americans saying thank you for having someone in your family who sacrificed your life for the flag."
I just -- I can't understand why that message is so hard to learn coming from the background I did, when you look at people who serve overseas and who give their lives. He's supposed to say something simple: "We love what they did for this country. We empathize with the families and we stand with you." Maybe even going to Dover Air Force Base to salute those caskets as they come home.
And all he can say is "My job is tough, and the guys who came before me like President Obama also didn't do too well in these circumstances."
I just don't get it.
BLITZER: President Obama did meet with families of military personnel who died in action.
All right, everybody stick around. We have a lot more coming up. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
[18:41:57] BLITZER: We're following THE breaking news. President Trump says he's not -- repeat, not -- considering firing the special counsel, Robert Mueller, in the Russia investigation.
Gloria, I thought that was a significant statement.
BLITZER: The president at the same time said this whole investigation is simply an excuse for the Democrats to explain why Hillary Clinton lost. He also says there's no conclusion. He hopes this investigation ends very quickly.
BORGER: Well, I think it was important that he said he doesn't want to fire Mueller, period, end of sentence. It's very clear that the strategy from inside the White House is to cooperate with Mueller, get him all the documents that they possibly can, not criticize him, say they respect him, they respect his team, and therefore, the president was completely doing what they want him to do, which is to say, "No, I'm not thinking of firing him."
However, when it comes to the whole premise of the Russia investigation, the president hasn't changed at all. From his tweets that it's a hoax and that it's an excuse for the Democrats, you know, he said that. He said that today, and that's his story, and he's sticking to it.
But as for Mueller, he's leaving him alone. He's not tweeting about him, as you've noticed, since I think the middle of the summer. So they're kind of laying low.
BLITZER: He may be listening to his lawyer's advice.
BORGER: Definitely. Definitely.
BLITZER: Phil, you're smiling. You used to work at not just the CIA but the FBI, as well. What did you think of the president's statement?
MUDD: I'm looking at this and I'm with Gloria. I think the president would like to fire him, but he sees no option. If you're sitting at the FBI, as I did, you're sitting there saying there is no way you can fire the FBI director and be in the midst of an investigation asking whether you obstructed justice and then fire the guy who is investigating the obstruction of justice.
I'm not saying the president likes Robert Mueller. I think he's looking at this saying, "Boy, I'd like to get out of this. Boy, I'd like to take him on 'The Apprentice' and fire him, but as soon as I do this, I just learned by when I fired the FBI director, that I'm going to get in hotter water. He doesn't have an option here, Wolf.
BLITZER: What do you think, Ryan?
LIZZA: Well, yes, look. I think there's a consensus that the biggest political mistake he made was firing the FBI director. That's something that Steve Bannon, his former political strategist, has said. His -- Trump's approval rating has been stuck at about 37 percent, right about since that time. And it's opened up a can of worms, including obviously, the obstruction of justice investigation that Mueller is now pursuing.
So if you're being -- you've being investigated for obstruction of justice by one of the most respected people in law enforcement, for firing the former FBI director, you probably don't want to repeat the mistake with that person, and plus, they didn't -- there was no real plan for what happens after you fire Mueller. This line of succession at the Justice Department is not very clear
that it would benefit Trump. Sessions has recused himself. Rosenstein would have to recuse himself. So it seems like it was just never really a viable option and would make things worse.
BLITZER: Yes. And the special counsel, as you know, David, he's moving full-speed ahead. He's spent a few hours, his lawyers, interviewing the former White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, on Friday.
SWERDLICK: Yes, which suggests that they're really covering all their bases and trying to see not just if there's collusion with Russia on the part of the Trump camp, but also obstruction of justice. I also agree with everybody, that the more people they get fired, the less plausible deniability there is about reasons why.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And don't forget, the White House has really just finished its document production. And that -- that takes a while. So, they can't exactly say to the special counsel hurry up when they have just sort of finished their end here, which is long and complicated to do.
And so now, Mueller has got the documents, starting to do his interviews. And all the attorneys want to do is kind of stay out of his way at this point and let him do his work, and the last thing they want their client to do, the president, is antagonize him.
BLITZER: Phil, what did you think of that Yahoo News report that Russian trolls were told, you're required to watch "House of Cards" on Netflix to hone your messaging, the messaging being to try to sow discontent in the United States?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Fascinating. Let me give you a simple reason why. I made a mistake, Wolf. I thought Russian intervention last year was about the election. This seems humorous. It's much more profound. It's about sowing discontent, as you said, within America, so that Americans on the left and right spend more time fighting each other than they think about Russian activities overseas in terms of Russian intervention in places like Crimea.
If you're looking at America and you want to find those vulnerabilities to exploit, you mentioned one avenue, "House of Cards." As an intelligence officer, you want vulnerability. I'd add "Saturday Night Live", watch the nightly talk shows, late night, 11:00, 11:30. Watch what happens on right wing and left wing news sites.
America wears its heart on its sleeve. If you want to know vulnerabilities to exploit and what we're fighting about in this country, watch TV and you'll find it.
BLITZER: Yes. All right, guys. There's interesting stuff, and I agree that this was designed to try to sow discontent here in the United States. The Russians have been trying to do that in the Soviet Union and since the collapse of the Soviet Union, continues to this day. We'll have much more on the breaking news. President Trump responds
to allegations of sexual assault, and a subpoena issued to the Trump campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All I can say is it's totally fake news. Just fake. It's fake. It's made up stuff. And it's disgraceful what happens, but that happens in the -- that happens in the world of politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:52:10] BLITZER: Breaking news tonight: President Trump says allegations of sexual assault by a former contestant on "The Apprentice" are, quote, fake and made up.
Our justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is working the story for us.
Jessica, lawyers for the woman have now subpoenaed the Trump campaign.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. It is a wide ranging subpoena, asking the Trump campaign too hand over all documents related to any of the sexual assault allegations made against the campaign at the height of the campaign last year.
And as you can imagine, Trump's attorneys are saying that request is way too broad. And they're also trying to get a defamation suit brought by one accuser dismissed.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Amid a cascade of complaints from multiple women last October that Donald Trump had sexually assaulted them over the years --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He came to me and started kissing open mouth as he was pulling me towards him.
SCHNEIDER: Then candidate Trump promised to take them to court.
TRUMP: All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.
SCHNEIDER: The president has not sued, but his repeated bashing of his accusers during the campaign --
TRUMP: When you looked at that horrible woman last night, you said, I don't think so.
Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign. Total fabrication. SCHNEIDER: -- has prompted accuser and former "Apprentice" star
Summer Zervos --
TRUMP: You know what, Summer? You're fired.
SCHNEIDER: -- to sue him for defamation in January.
And as first reported by "BuzzFeed", her lawyer Gloria Allred issued a wide ranging subpoena in March, to the president's campaign, seeking, all documents concerning any woman who asserted that Donald J. Trump touched her inappropriately, including any basis for Donald J. Trump's statements that any such woman or women fabricated, created or lied about her/their interactions with him or motivated to come forward by fame or ten minutes of fame, money, politics or pressure form the Clinton campaign.
GLORIA ALLRED, ATTORNEY FOR SUMMER ZERVOS: Part of their argument is, that the president is legally immune from being sued because he is president. We respond with the case of Paula Jones versus President Clinton, which went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court indicated no man is above the law, even the president of the United States is not above the law.
SCHNEIDER: The Supreme Court did allow Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against President Bill Clinton to proceed, but Trump's lawyers argue this issue and said the subpoena is a different circumstance, stating: Ms. Allred has served a far-reaching subpoena on the Trump campaign that seeks wholly irrelevant information intended solely to harass the president. Indeed, Ms. Allred herself has questioned how the president could run the country if faced with broad discovery.
ALLRED: Any attacks on me, this is not new. People who oppose me often will attack me personally, which is usually a sign that they don't have a good argument against the merits of my argument.
[18:55:08] SCHNEIDER: Hillary Clinton even weighed in this weekend.
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated anywhere, whether it's in entertainment, politics, after all, we have someone admitting to being a sexual assaulter in the Oval Office, there has to be a recognition that we must stand against this kind of, you know, action that is so sexist and misogynistic.
SCHNEIDER: The president pushed back from the Rose Garden against the reports of the subpoenas served on his campaign by Zervos and Allred.
TRUMP: All I can say is it's fake news, just fake. It's fake. It's made up stuff. And it's disgraceful what happens but that happens -- that happens in the world of politics.
SCHNEIDER: The president's lawyers are now fighting the defamation suit brought by Summer Zervos. They're saying the only purpose for the lawsuit and the subsequent subpoena is to get broad discovery that could be used in, quote, impeachment hearings, to distract from the president's agenda. There right now is a motion pending to dismiss the case outright. And, of course, it's up to the New York state court whether to let it proceed -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jessica, thank you. Jessica Schneider reporting. We'll see where the legal steps go next.
There's more breaking news we're following. President Trump is blaming local distribution efforts and hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico for the shortage of water and food. The president says plenty of supplies are getting to the island.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We've delivered tremendous amounts of water. Then what you have to do is you have to have distribution of the water by the people on the island. So, we have massive amounts of water, we have massive amounts of food, but they have to distribute the food and they have to do this, they have to distribute the food to the people of the island.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's go to CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's joining us from San Juan tonight.
Ed, some island residents are so desperate, I understand. They're, what, drinking potentially contaminated water from a toxic cleanup site?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. We spent some considerable amount of time over the last couple days investigating this. This is an area in a town called Dorado, which is just west of San Juan. EPA officials, the Environmental Protection Agency, spent the weekend there gathering water samples from about a half dozen water wells on what is known as a superfund site. For people not aware what that means, these are sites designated by the EPA, as some of the most contaminated pieces of land in the country.
Since the storm, we've heard reports that there are a number of people who have been accessing some of these water wells for drinking water and water for their toilets and that sort of thing. EPA officials gathering those water samples, they say that the results from those samples will start coming back tomorrow. The questions about whether or not any kind of chemical toxins are in it, those results won't be back until next week.
We spoke with one of those EPA officials and they described to us what exactly they're worried about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: How concerned are you about what might happen to them?
GARY LIPSON, EPA INCIDENT COMMANDER IN PUERTO RICO: We're concerned because it's not absolutely clean, you know, pure water. There are some contaminants. We're not saying that somebody is in immediate danger by drinking this water. We're considering it a long term risk.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: And, Wolf, after our report started airing earlier today, we went back to those water wells and four of the six, we found that guards have now been placed at those water wells, preventing people from accessing those particular wells. Two of them, Puerto Rican officials say, have been deemed clear for use that they have not found levels of contaminants that are worrisome. So, that work continues.
The governor here in Puerto Rico says if those wells pass the Clean Water Act, they will continue to use them because people need that water.
BLITZER: Ed, what about --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO (D), PUERTO RICO: If it's nondrinking water, we're not going to be serving it. But if it complies with the Clean Water Act, then it is going to happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: And, Wolf, as I mentioned, the results of those EPA testing will start coming back perhaps as early as tomorrow, on the biological part of it. The more serious component, the chemical contamination, we're told those results won't be back until early next week -- Wolf.
BLITZER: But you've spoken to some of the people who've actually started to drink that contaminated water and they're complaining of stomach pain and other ailments. Is that right?
LAVANDERA: Yes, we found after we had witnesses the EPA take out their water samples, there were two men that came up, got inside the caged up area where this water well was and started taking out water and they invited us back to their home. We spoke to their mother who told us that she had been kind of feeling stomach pains over the last two weeks. It's really impossible to tell at this point if that is connected to the drinking water and the water she's been drinking over the last couple weeks. But there's definitely clear enough concern here tonight that guards are now placed at those water wells to prevent more people from accessing it.
BLITZER: Let's hope for the best. Ed Lavandera in Puerto Rico, thanks very much.
That's it for me.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.